Watch any apocalyptic themed movie and you will see a very common trend. Your happy go lucky neighbor will turn into a raving psychopath as soon as whatever event happens that makes it apocalyptic. While this tends to add drama and move the story along, it is not very realistic. Aside from a pandemic disease that alters the mind of those infected (i.e. 28 Days Later) or a nuclear incident, most people will not even realize things have hit the fan at first. Even if a widespread EMP event happens, most people will assume things will be back to normal in a few days. Authorities will tend to reassure people of this in an effort to not incite panic. While it may actually vary in time period, I refer to this as Day 1. For the most part this can be a quiet time. Some less than desirable individuals will try to leverage that law enforcement is stretch thinner than ever to ramp up criminal efforts. Most ordinary people like our neighbors, members of the PTA, and the college girl that babysits your kids will be either in a state of shock or disbelief though. This period unfortunately is when the decisions you make can very well be life or death.
In this lull, unless the situation is instantaneous cataclysmic, most people will feel more inconvenienced than anything. They will follow their normal patterns as much as they can. They will go to work or school if it is open, come home, have dinner, do chores, and repeat the next day. They will discuss news tidbits they have heard with their friends and neighbors and theorize about when this will end. Most will feel that their community services, government, and relief organizations will take care of the problem in due time. You can’t really blame them for wanting to believe that. Most have no idea how to react if that is not true. The longer this period lasts, the thinner the veneer of society will be stretched.
It will begin to dawn on some slower than others that this is not going to end any time soon. That is when the transition will begin to what I refer to as Day 2. Again the actual time period may vary greatly depending on the actual events. This is when the full implications of a large scale disaster will sink in. Panic is very likely to ensue. Essentials like food, water, and fuel will become points of conflict as people try to hoard what they can. Both targeted and random violence will begin to break out. The uncertainty will leave most in a high level of stress and panic. The longer the population remains high, the more resources will be burned up or willfully destroyed. Possibly within a matter of hours of the light bulb going off in their head, those in densely populated cities will begin to migrate outward in hopes of finding the quiet little farm or a section of woods where they can hold up. Millions of unprepared and ill-supplied bodies will tear across the land ravaging it worse than a wildfire. As the situation becomes dire, people will become desperate to feed themselves and their loved ones. Desperate hungry people often feel they have nothing to lose and will not act logically. This will make for a very dangerous horde trampling towards wherever they may see as glimmer of hope.
As someone making preparation for various disasters, you might already see that Day 2 is too late to be making your move to relocate and secure yourself. Like has been seen in so many evacuations, traffic will be at a standstill on any road but the most remote. Initially the volume of traffic will be the issue, but as hours pass roadways will become long parking lots of crippled and abandoned vehicles. Any vehicle that is not trapped in this will become a target for anyone with questionable morals. The only way to avoid this deathtrap that many will fall into is to identify Day 1 and have plans in place to move quickly or already be at a location that allows you to hunker down safely.
When planning take this need for swift and decisive action into consideration. Wasting precious time mulling over your options or going shopping for essentials might put you directly in the middle of the rush to leave. While there are some item you may need to acquire at the last minute, make those as few as possible. Also, in many situations credit cards will be useless, so having cash on hand will help you get the last minute items you need to round out your supplies. Additionally, be sure to plan how everyone is to get to the desired location. Waiting for your entire party to get home may take much longer than meeting them at a central randevu location.
While this scenario goes well beyond localized flooding, snowstorms, or even lower end hurricanes, there are many precedents to look at in recent years. Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Andrew, the Mendocino Complex Fire in California, and others show that it does not take an EMP, government collapse, or a pandemic to cause you to need to put your plan into action. So plan well, review it often, and be prepared to stay ahead of the crowd.